Back in December 2011, we pit the Hyundai i10 against the Honda Brio, and after driving both cars, came to the conclusion, “The i10 is nowhere near as fun to drive as the Brio and can’t match it in key areas like passenger comfort and ride and handling. You can’t get away from the fact that the Brio is and feels like a car in a higher class.”
However, the new Grand i10, that is essentially the next-generation i10, has addressed those very weaknesses with better dynamics and a bigger cabin. But, these improvements have come at a price. At Rs 5.48 lakh, it’s not only considerably more expensive than the standard i10 (without discounts), it’s a bit steeper than the Brio, which costs Rs 5.38 lakh, too!
Meanwhile, Honda hasn’t really tinkered around with its hatchback but has added a much needed height adjustable driver’s seat and a rear windshield defogger. So, can Honda’s only hatch still trump an improved i10? Or does the Grand i10 make for a value proposition strong enough to eclipse the Brio’s fantastic mechanical package?
Comfort and Convenience
The Honda’s interior is sparsely decorated yet very functional. The dashboard’s ergonomically sound layout is easy to interact with whilst the low cowl, comfortable front seats and a well-placed steering wheel offer a fine driving position and an unrestricted view, which instills confidence. The centre console is simple in its layout but the speedometer has cheap looking fonts and the tachometer isn’t the easiest to read - a size larger would have definitely helped. The dashboard plastics aren’t bad in terms of quality but the simple dash design and basic switchgear make the cabin feel a bit austere. Looking at the diminutive Brio, you would expect the rear seats to be cramped but it’s surprisingly spacious with decent legroom and a comfy seat back. However, the smallish seat squabs lack thigh support and there aren’t any head restraints or bottle holders at the back either. Another irritant was that one inevitably bumps their head against the grab handles, rather often while exiting the car. A fine bit of packaging though can be seen on the inner rear doors – to make it easy to get in and out, Honda has moved the speaker in a way that doesn’t interfere with your foot.
It’s the boot that’s probably the most disappointing bit about the Brio’s packaging. The glass hatch may look snazzy but, you won’t be terribly impressed with what it conceals. The boot’s high loading height coupled with its narrow and deep form dents convenience and its petite volume struggles to swallow anything more than a suitcase and a soft bag. Also, guiding the spare wheel out of that narrow and deep cavity is an arduous task. And you really wouldn’t want to deal with a flat when it’s dark and pouring.
On the contrary, you feel more cared for in the Grand i10 and you won’t feel short changed here. There’s a good mix of quality materials and the attention to detail is quite impressive. All the ‘touch-points’ have been deliberately made to exude a premium feel with regards to their materials and operation. For example, all the rotary knobs are treated with a premium knurled finish and the glass-top gear lever looks quite special too.
The only thing that feels a bit cheap are the air-con controls that are quite stiff and clunky to operate. While the front seats are as comfortable as the Brio’s, the driving position doesn’t feel as great. The higher dashboard warrants for your seat to be set all the way up to achieve a vantage driving position. At the rear, you’re treated with slightly more supportive seats and similar knee room as the Brio’s. But, after an hour and a half, the low seat and high window line does get a bit claustrophobic. Then there’s the segment first rear AC vents which, frankly, didn’t put up much of a fight against Mumbai’s sultry October afternoons. In fact, the main advantage of them is the extra 12V mounted socket, which was helpful in preventing our phones from running out of juice. After the Brio, the Grand i10’s spacious and ergonomically sound boot was a welcome change as it gobbled up our camera equipment and three backpacks with ease.
Under the hood
The Brio weighs a light 925kg and the 1.2-litre, 87bhp engine does a fine job of propelling this weight forward briskly. Pin the throttle pedal to the floor and the Brio begins to reward you after 3,000 revs. Keep your foot down and tacho needle makes an eager dash towards the crimson band. The engine feels the strongest when it’s just a few hundred revs short of the red-line, sounding quite sporty too. But, while threading your way through town below 2,000rpm (with a full load on-board), the engine does feel a bit arthritic and you’ll find yourself downshifting and punching your right foot into the footwell rather often. But, working this ’box isn’t a chore at all. Its slick action urges you to change gears with a swift action and the nicely defined gates ensure that your sporty left-handed action doesn’t miss the intended slot. Flat-out, the Brio darts to 100kph in 12.86 seconds but is limited to a top speed of 140kph. The Brio feels so stable even at its top speed that you may be tempted to do away with the limiter (yes, it’s possible!)
Get behind the wheel of the Grand i10 and its character is quite the polar opposite. At 82bhp, its 1.2-litre engine may not be as powerful as the Brio’s but its torque is available at lower down the rev-range, making it more driveable than the Honda (especially with a full load on board). It’s more sensitive to part throttle too and its over responsive power delivery takes getting used to in stop-and-go traffic. Hence, despite being heavier and down on horsepower, it posts similar in-gear times as the Brio and even betters it in some cases. For example, 20-80kph in third takes 13.56sec, which is almost a second quicker than the Brio and in the real world, it feels quicker than what the numbers suggest. This tractable nature, thankfully, results in fewer gearshifts, because the notchy gates like playing hide and seek. Interestingly this ’box is not as slick as the one in the diesel Grand i10 and coupled with a spongy clutch action, doesn’t make for a great driving experience.
Driving dynamics is an area where these two have almost nothing in common. The Honda offers a well-rounded blend of ride and handling, which isn’t something you can say about the Grand i10. On unfinished patches of road, the Brio’s suspension feels reasonably meaty, restricting any excessive body movements and on the faster stretches too, it doesn’t let the odd irregularity throw it off balance either. But what is truly impressive is the precise steering wheel. It just feels like there aren’t too many linkages between the steering and the wheels to muddle communication to your fingertips. The Brio isn’t just the better handling car here; it is one of the most dynamically accomplished hatchbacks across the segment.
If the Grand i10’s armour has a chink, this is it. The suspension setup is tuned to concentrate purely on low-speed comfort, and while it’s quite good at bump absorption, the struts protest while doing their job with a distinct thudding sound. Gain momentum and the quality of ride deteriorates further. On the highways outside Mumbai, the fragmented stretches of road easily caught the Hyundai off guard and had our camera crew tossing all over the rear seats. And while the typically-Hyundai light steering makes the Grand effortless in the city, its indirect nature coupled with its slightly vague behaviour around the straight-ahead position, gives the car a nervous edge above 110kph.
Essentials and Equipment
In terms of equipment, the Grand i10 absolutely trumps the Brio. Apart from the USB audio system, power windows and electric mirrors present in both cars, the top-spec Asta Grand i10 pampers you with Bluetooth connectivity, 1GB internal storage, a CD player, electric folding mirrors, rear AC vents, cooled glove box and an auto-dimming rear view mirror.
Some of these features easily belong to cars placed a segment higher and hence infuse a good deal of value in the Grand i10. Surprisingly, Hyundai hasn’t given ABS and dual airbags as standard even on the top Asta variant and you have to pay around Rs 30,000 extra to have them installed.
Both cars are quite fuel-efficient but it’s the Brio that has the edge. In our city and highway runs, the Brio managed 12.6kpl and 17kpl respectively while the Grand i10 wasn’t too far behind with 11.7kpl and 16.3kpl on the same route.
The Dotted Line
In a way, the hatchbacks here epitomise the core competencies of their respective manufacturers. Honda’s typical mix of merits forms the base for the Brio. You essentially pay for a refined, free-revving engine, mated to a slick gearbox, manoeuvred by direct and precise steering geometry. Fundamentally, the elements you’d see in a typical chassis line-diagram, work great in this car. It’s only when you look for the frills that this otherwise potent package falls short. Compared to the Grand i10, the interiors aren’t exciting and the equipment list is just too basic. Then there’s the small boot that doesn’t hold much luggage and it isn’t easy to load either. However, Honda’s masterful engineering makes the Brio the car to buy if you enjoy driving.
Alternatively, the Grand i10 is a product that seems to have been honed by a feedback form from the typical Indian consumer. That doesn’t mean it’s sloppily engineered but it lacks the final yard of mechanical finesse present on the Brio. What you get instead are the things that matter the most for everyday motoring. It’s stylish both inside and out, packed to the gills with equipment and the longer wheelbase has liberated enough legroom to make travelling for four a comfortable experience. There is enough space for their luggage too. Yes, the driving experience doesn’t make you smile as often as the Brio’s but, it’s far from being a deal breaker. Moreover, the Grand i10 is holistically a better blend of cabin finish, refinement and performance that is just about good enough to eclipse the Brio’s mechanical brilliance.